Chester 27 – 14 Preston Grasshoppers
Hoppers made the short journey to Hare Lane to take on a Chester side that last week had decimated Scunthorpe with seventeen tries and a score of one hundred and nine to twelve.
Undaunted, and fresh from a week off after a much more solid performance of their own against a very good Hinckley team, the lads were up for the challenge, boosted by the return of Matt Lamprey and Chris Taylor to the pack.
The doom and gloom merchants at the Met office were somewhat wide of the mark with their predictions of high winds and hail for the entire afternoon as the teams ran out onto the 3G surface bathed in winter sunshine with only a stiff breeze to trouble the kickers.
Hoppers kicked off deep into the Chester 22 and immediately made their mark, driving the first scrum and gaining a penalty. Jake Squirrell opted to go for the points and with just three minutes elapsed the score was 0 – 3.
They repeated the process less than five minutes later, this time from a Chester scrum on their own 5m line, when they again drove their hosts and were given a penalty in front of the posts. Squirrell was on the mark again and for once Hoppers were asserting themselves early in the match.
The travelling faithful were treated to more joy when, from their own lineout on the Chester 5m line, Hoppers secured the ball and Chris Taylor announced his return with a try in the corner. Squirrell’s conversion attempt from wide on the wing fell short but after twelve minutes the score showed Hoppers in the lead 0 – 11.
Chester must have been jolted into life by this early dominance as from the restart they began to put phases together and apply pressure inside the Hoppers’ half.
The Preston forwards were working well, holding back the attacks and allowing their backs to put together some passing moves of their own, one of which took them into their opposition’s 22 and opened up a chance for another try that was only dashed by an unfortunate ‘crossing’ by Hoppers in the last passage to the line.
Chester then moved up to the Hoppers’ 20m line and after a scrum that was re-set twice they were driven by their visitors who were awarded a penalty.
Whether the wind had strengthened by then was difficult to tell from up in the stand but the kick failed to make touch and, having collected the ball, Chester battled their way back from the half way line. They were given a scrum from a Hoppers’ knock-on on the 10m line and immediately broke to the 22 and gained a penalty for a lineout on the Hoppers’ 5m line.
They secured the ball and flanker, Joseph dropped over the line. The conversion attempt missed and the score moved on to 5 – 11 with just under a quarter of the half left.
Hoppers pressed on and came within inches of extending their lead when a kick through by Nick Gregson from just inside the Chester half was collected by Scott Jordan at speed. He broke into the five metre ‘red zone’ and passed to Jordan Dorrington who crossed the line only to lose control of the ball in the final tackle.
Play continued with a fairly even contest in the middle third of the field. Hoppers made repeated assaults on their hosts’ 22 and in reply Chester had several clearance kicks to touch which, strangely, only gained them a scant few metres and allowed Hoppers to pressurize them again.
With a minute of the half left on the clock, Hoppers had a lineout on the half way line. The ball was lost and Chester broke to the 22 where, in a frenetic scramble amongst the forwards, play moved back and forth across the pitch. Jordan stole the loose ball and, having been advised by the assistant referee that time was up, kicked it dead behind the goal only to see the referee award a scrum to Chester as he maintained that the clock was still running!
After that it was almost inevitable that points would be scored and Chester took the ball from the scrum and crossed under the posts. The easy conversion was the last play of the half and from looking to go to the break six points in the lead, Hoppers found themselves a point down at half time. 12 – 11.
Chester started the second half with renewed confidence and after three minutes had extended their lead to 19 – 11 with a converted try scored under the posts.
Hoppers pressed on and having fought their way into their hosts’ 22, were given a penalty in front of the posts where Squirrell narrowed the Chester lead to five points.
From the restart the ball was collected on the Hoppers’ 22 but then a ‘box kick’ hung in the strengthening wind and fell over the touchline without any forward gain. Chester won their lineout but in the ensuing forwards’ encounters John Blanchard was shown a yellow card for what was deemed a high tackle. Chester kicked the penalty to the 5m line and drove their lineout to score the bonus point try in the corner. The conversion from out on the wing was wide of the posts but with Hoppers a man down they were now ten points behind.
The game opened up and play moved back and forth between the two 22m lines with some fairly frantic handling at times which saw Hoppers almost playing volleyball on their own line when a high tap pass produce a scrambled recovery!
Chester then received their own yellow card, again for a foul tackle, and for one minute the sides were even again until Blanchard returned.
However, even with the man advantage, Hoppers could not improve their position and with less than five minutes of the game left, Chester extended their lead with a penalty on the Hoppers’ 22 to make the final score 27 – 14.
As the final whistle was blown a bout of handbags broke out resulting in Jordan being given a red card for taking exception to one of the opposition.
After the match Arnie praised the team,
‘I think this was the best display so far this season. We made a solid start and only a few individual errors cost us some points.
The last three minutes of the first half summed up the match really, nothing seems to go our way even when we are playing well.
It was good to have Lamps back and he performed well. The backs had a very good time today and with the prospect of a new backs coach joining us they can only get better.
Building on the performance against Hinckley, this was another promising show and gives us a lot to look forward to.’
Next week we host Caldy who today subjected Scunthorpe to their second 100+ points defeat in as many weeks and reportedly only require one point to secure promotion. This might play in our favour so get down to the club and give the lads your support.
Report by John Le Page, pictures by Andy Harmer